Unless you follow fashion the way some baseball fans dig into the nuances of spring training or basketball fans indulge in the foreplay leading up to the NBA draft, you probably have never heard of Rogers. But the industry has positioned him as an up-and-comer, as major. Last year he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which is this country’s most substantive prize for young designers. The award comes with $400,000, mentoring with an industry veteran and a big heaping helping of buzz, which means that the street and foyer outside his show venue at Spring Studios downtown was clogged with scenesters.
To the unsuspecting consumer, Rogers represents what the fashion industry thinks you will want in the near future: loud, self-reverential drama.
On Saturday evening, Rogers models strutted down the runway with their hands planted on their hips and their shoulders thrown back. They wore giant wedge-shaped Afros or shoulder-length wash-and-set waves that looked as though they’d been cemented into place with a blast of Aqua Net. Most of the models were wearing heels so high that they were essentially walking en pointe.
They paused dramatically at the foot of the runway and glared into the bank of cameras. Their clothes were bright: orange, safety green and fuchsia. Suits were bedazzled with thousands of Swarovski crystals. Evening gowns were so long and voluminous that models had to hike them up in front just to avoid tripping over them on the runway.
Rogers is a technically trained designer, steeped in fashion history. But his collection doesn’t tell the story of fashion as written by famed editor Diana Vreeland, iconic photographer George Hoyningen-Huene or the 1960s model Twiggy. He was influenced, he said in his show notes, by Madame Grès, but his collection was more evocative of a version of fashion formed by “Mahogany,” Ebony Fashion Fair, drag balls and Instagram selfie filters.
Rogers’s creativity has come of age at a time of gender fluidity and personal declarations of fabulousness — a time when judging something good or bad is cause for being canceled if you happen to come down on the wrong side of the social media majority. Quality of taste doesn’t matter as much as personal agency: Did you own that look?
Rogers’s work is self-consciously over-the-top. It demands to be noticed. It can overshadow the person wearing it to such a degree that he or she or they become little more than a kind of substructure that supports the plumes and waves of fabric.
Rogers performs fashion as an act of cultural inclusion. He performs it like a rebel leading a charge against assumptions about elegance. He performs it as a counterargument to today’s pessimism about the viability of the fashion industry as a place where crazy dreams are nurtured and can ultimately thrive.
Rogers uses his runway shows as a stage for models to perform fashion’s kookiest and most beloved cliches about working a runway, giving good face and looking fierce
But is it good fashion? There’s a thick, sometimes impenetrable gloss to Rogers’s work. It can be void of emotion. The best fashion is more than a performance. It’s rooted in humanity — beautiful, painful, powerful, raw.
The best clothes are also founded on impeccable technique and glorious fabrics. Rogers’s materials often look flimsy — as if they are little more than sheen and wishful thinking. His construction often falters when he moves away from tailoring, which is his forte. His ideas overflow an audience’s attention span.
Rogers gives his audience the glamour and attitude and strutting confidence that makes fashion such an enticing industry to those who seek solace in fantasies, who view their personal regalia as a form of armor, who use fashion to define themselves because the public so often gets that definition wrong.
At a time when everyone is jockeying to be seen and heard in the town square — whether the virtual one or the old-fashioned one — Rogers counsels shouting loudest and longest of all.